In a major victory for environmentalists, California is going nuclear-free, ending atomic energy’s more than half-century history in the state. On Tuesday, one of the state’s largest utilities agreed to a proposal endorsed by environmental groups and labor unions to shutter California’s last operating nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon, by 2025. California is the world’s sixth largest economy, and it was among the first states to embrace nuclear energy in the 1950s. Diablo Canyon began operating in 1985 and stirred controversy from the start. For years, anti-nuclear activists called for the plant’s closure because of safety concerns over its precarious location near several major earthquake fault lines. We speak to Damon Moglen of Friends of the Earth. The organization has been fighting for the plant’s closure since the 1960s.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In what’s been described as a major victory for environmentalists, California is going nuclear-free, ending atomic energy’s more than half-century history in the state. On Tuesday, one of the state’s largest utilities agreed to a proposal endorsed by environmental groups and labor unions to shut down California’s last operating nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon. Under the proposal, utility giant Pacific Gas and Electric will no longer seek renewed operating licenses for the plant’s two reactors, and instead will develop more solar, wind and other clean power technologies by 2025.
AMY GOODMAN: California is the world’s sixth largest economy. It was among the first states to embrace nuclear energy in the '50s. Diablo Canyon began operating in 1985 and stirred controversy from the start. For years, anti-nuclear activists called for the plant's closure because of safety concerns over its precarious location near several major earthquake fault lines. Tuesday’s proposal to shutter Diablo Canyon was negotiated by a coalition of environmental and labor groups, including Friends of the Earth, the Coalition of California Utility Employees and the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility.
For more, we go to San Francisco, where we’re joined by Damon Moglen, senior strategic adviser for Friends of the Earth, one of the group’s lead negotiators for closing down Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.
So, Damon Moglen, tell us what happened, how you did this, and what’s going to happen to this plant.
DAMON MOGLEN: Good morning, Amy. It’s great to be here with you and Juan.
Well, this is really a historic agreement. It really means the end of nuclear power in California and its replacement with renewable energy and efficiency. And that’s really a kind of blueprint, not only for California, but for the country and, I think, ultimately, the world, for how we’re going to be combating climate change by ramping up renewables and getting rid of both fossil fuel plants and nuclear plants. It’s a pretty remarkable story. I think it’s fascinating to think that this utility and the unions and the environmentalists were able to reach this agreement. We’ve spent decades fighting each other, and here we’ve reached an agreement. And it basically recognizes that it’s cheaper to shut down nuclear power plants than it is to run them, and it’s better to use and cheaper to use renewable energy than it is to use nuclear power.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Damon, how specifically were you able to get this extraordinary alliance between the utility workers themselves and the environmentalists?
DAMON MOGLEN: Well, one of the things that’s really interesting, Juan, about the agreement is that we pushed very hard, and the utility, Pacific Gas and Electric, pushed very hard to recognize that in many cases where reactors or plants are closed down, workers in the local community are treated pretty badly. And in this case, what we were able to agree was that there should be very significant amounts of money available so that the workers can be retrained, so that there can be retention policies. You know, Diablo Canyon, when it closes, is going to be a massive nuclear waste dump. There are thousands of tons of highly radioactive waste that are going to be at that plant. And we need the workers to know how to work there safely, to be protected, but also to isolate that very dangerous material from the environment. So, we were able to get the agreement to contain very large sums of money, hundreds of millions of dollars, ultimately, for worker retraining and retention, and also money for the community, because it’s going to be a big shock, when the plant ultimately closes down, on the tax base for the community itself in San Luis Obispo. So that really helped in bringing the union in, and I think the union recognized that there are going to be great opportunities in this transition to green jobs.
AMY GOODMAN: So, this is a particularly huge victory for Friends of the Earth, isn’t it? Isn’t it the reason Friends of the Earth was formed, to counter Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant and its dangers? If you could answer that and also the fact that you have California, the sixth largest economy on the planet, and the significance of this economy not relying on nuclear power, which many are putting forward right now, even some who might have called themselves environmentalists, as the answer to dependence on fossil fuel?
DAMON MOGLEN: Well, yes, I mean, for Friends of the Earth, this is—it’s a wonderful moment. You know, the organization was begun in 1969 by David Brower to fight Diablo Canyon. And so, for us, 45 years later, to be facing the end of this plant, and, incredibly, its replacement with renewable energy and energy efficiency, is a dream come true. And it’s just great news for the people of California, ultimately.
And, Amy, you’re absolutely right. The fact that the sixth largest economy on the planet is saying no to nuclear power and is going to replace nuclear power with safer, cleaner, cheaper renewable energy is a tremendous message. And it really does put an end to this nonsense that somehow nuclear power has any role to play in the future. The fact of the matter is that, in fact, one of the reasons this agreement is taking place is that nuclear power plants, these old plants, the so-called base load plants, are actually obstructing increasing renewable energy around the country and around the world, because the nuclear power is all the time, 24 hours a day. There’s no flexibility. And instead, what we need in our future energy is going to be flexibility and demand response. And that’s what we’re going to be getting from renewable energy and energy efficiency. Ultimately, what this plan really proves is that it’s cheaper to shut down the nuclear plants and better to replace the energy with cheaper, cleaner, safer renewables and efficiency. It’s really a dramatic moment and a blueprint for the planet to address climate change.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And to what degree did it help that you at least had a governmental administration in California that is sympathetic to your issues? Obviously, Jerry Brown was a longtime opponent of Diablo Canyon decades ago, and there’s a fairly progressive state Legislature in California.
DAMON MOGLEN: I think that those are all really important factors, Juan. I mean, the fact is that the governor, Jerry Brown, has led the state in demanding a renewable mandate, the requirement that the state accept and increase renewables, so that California is looking at a renewable mandate of 50 percent by 2030. And that’s really a testament to the governor’s commitments to climate change. But at the same time, what’s interesting here is that, through this agreement, Pacific Gas and Electric is committing to 55 percent by 2030 by shutting down Diablo Canyon and ramping up renewables. So, you know, we’re seeing a way that California, as usual, is setting a new green yardstick in how to address climate change by ramping up renewables and closing down nuclear.
AMY GOODMAN: 2025 is the closing date of Diablo Canyon. Is there any chance you’re going to get it closed earlier than that? That’s what? Nine years away.
DAMON MOGLEN: Well, you know, there are lots and lots of people who have fought for many decades to shut Diablo Canyon down. And I think that it’s important to recognize that all of us together are going to continue to try to do everything we can to assure safety and protect the environment. And I want to make clear that one of the things the agreement specifically says is that in no way does this agreement seek to stop, in any way, the work of Friends of the Earth or other organizations and activists to continue to fight to make sure that we’re safe and that the environment is safe. So I think, you know, the battle is going to continue in the meantime, but this agreement means it’s the end of Diablo and the end of nuclear power in California. It’s pretty dramatic.
AMY GOODMAN: Damon Moglen, we want to thank you for being with us, senior strategic adviser for Friends of the Earth, one of the group’s lead negotiators for closing down Diablo Canyon nuclear plant.
And that does it for our broadcast. I’ll be speaking tonight at 7:30 at 99 Madison in New York City with Chris Hedges, Jeremy Scahill and others, marking Julian Assange’s four years in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, and on Saturday at the WAM!NYC Gender Justice in Media Conference at Barnard College at 4:00. Check Democracy Now!